All over the theatre-sphere a major topic of conversation is that we’ve come to believe financial and artistic achievement are the same that and we must change that definition. Many great artists and writer say not only should we redefine success, we should reexamine how we may find it. I recently came upon a post by Laura Axelrod that championed the idea of the independent artist. The IDA is an arts entrepreneur who creates their own opportunities, not an actor waiting for someone else to give them their big break. The article, using great statistics from Equity points out that more than half of equity members didn’t make a red cent through theatre last year. It’s a compelling argument.
But in a capitalist economy where we need money to survive, how can we completely break these two definitions of success apart? Of course artistic success is about more than the number of tickets sold, donors acquired or grants earned, I’m not going to argue that. But why am I flawed in thinking the work that my colleagues and I do isn’t worth enough to make a living on? It’s the same argument I have about being an intern.
When did we become so hopeless and cynical about the possibilities? Many people will admit that the current major producing model in this country is flawed but why is the solution to fixing the system found in compromising our dreams? Do we really believe it’s not worth our time anymore to try and find a new model? If anything this feels like giving in and publicly admitting, “Hey you’re right, my time and effort aren’t worth as much as yours. I should have to double it to live half as well as you!” I think it’s humiliating.
The other problem is that this conversation is mostly happening in a vacuum. Very few theatre makers I know really equate artistic and financial success outside of hoping to make a living off of their art. And should we really be shaming ourselves for wanting that? What about educating our audiences and boards of directors in a stronger way about the difference between the two types of success? Suggesting instead that our artistic success can feed their life success and that their financial success can feed our life success. That maybe we can find a fair trade where no one has to compromise their beliefs.
I don’t want to hate on the idea of being an IDA. In fact I consider myself one. I want to create opportunities for myself and for other artists where we make our living by doing what we love. But if I really want to direct and in order to supplement that I create another opportunity for myself that utilizes my directorial skills am I achieving this new form of success? Or, am I just replacing waiting tables with a fancier day job? For people that can find fulfillment by doing this, by all means do it! I believe everyone should do what makes them happy and so long as it doesn’t hinder anyone else then I have no judgement on that. What might seem an off-shoot of a passion to me, may exercise it for you. But I consider part of my life’s work to be finding a new model for producing theatre where the artists can make a living wage and the theatre can remain completely accessible for the audience. Where both sides can agree that there is a fair trade being made. Of course hiccups may happen in that process and one side or another may find themselves unfulfilled now and again but that’s life. We need to build a stronger understanding with the people who empower us what the artistic process is like.
We can no longer accept the belief that we should live off doing one job that really does take time and energy the same as any other. Yet we roll around and whine that we’re not valued enough. We’ve managed to find a way to shame and deify ourselves at the same time.